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At one stage, I worked with an email marketing company founded, in part, by a clever Croydonite called Tink Taylor.

And one of the biggest things I discovered is that there are dozens of lessons in email that can be applied to smart, modern PR campaigns.

Think about deliverability, for example. Between Gmail’s multiple inboxes and overzealous spam filters, how suicidal does an agency have to be to risk its domain not reaching inboxes by spamming out messages indiscriminately?

And how many activate authentication systems like DKIM, just to be safe?

Thanks to email marketing, I was neck deep in A-B testing years before I joined a global tech startup obsessed with operating lean and minimum viable products.

But one of Tink’s lessons that really stuck with me is the importance of cadence. In an email marketing context, this refers to the ups and downs of volume, the frequency with which you’re contacting people. But in the PR world, it has a huge role in telling realistic stories over time.

The old cadence of PR

When you’re distributing messages or news announcements, there’s an inclination to make as big a deal of the story as possible, to persuade someone that it’s genuinely news. So you act like it’s a breaking bombshell from the world’s leading operator and the quote reveals how ‘excited’ you are to announce version 1.45.

Then, one month later, it’s time to tell the world about version 1.46. And because you’re emailing again and, likely, nobody wrote about the previous announcement, you feel obliged to up the ante and reiterate what a big story this is.

How excited you really are. Maybe you’re even ‘proud’ to announce this one.

The issue is, no company in the world operates at 11/10 month after month, year after year. Yet the pressures of how companies used to communicate encourages this illusion.

Cadence and context

Companies need to embrace the natural cadence and the natural ups and downs of their story. But if you’re going to use smaller stories to punctuate the bigger ones, or add industry context, it means little if you only ever show one episode at a time.

So ask: where are you going to host your story? What the hell is /blog/ doing on your website, still using the non-responsive Wordpress 2010 theme and with things like ‘archives’ in the left sidebar? Why is there a separate /press/ or /news/ or /about/?

Embrace your cadence

Create a page on your site. Tell your story, accepting that some announcements are big and some are small. Write less about the smaller ones. Only publish when you have something to say. Think about what anyone reading might need or want next and link to surrounding or previous context pieces. Use video. Use audio.

Ideally write directly to your customers instead of faux press release lingo. Don’t use words like obfuscative to try and hide the lack of story (let alone because it’s not a real word.)

Send anything you think might have genuine industry ramifications to a few highly targeted people beforehand, once you get their agreement to the embargo. Give them the link to where the story will be published, so it’s clear that they can visit that page for future news or commentary. Be consistent.

That’s it.

A matter of taste

Everyone has an instinct for stories, like they have a taste for food. Not everyone is a gourmet, not everyone is a chef. But everyone can tell if something’s rotten.

Stop trying to perfume the corpse. Don’t pretend you’re smarter than your reader or they don’t have the taste to see through the corporate tone. Filter the impurities and embrace the truth of how your company is operating. Tell it how it is.

Be an excellent company and/ or tell excellent stories. It’s not easy but that’s why it’s such a real, valuable advantage.

Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Published 16 October, 2014 by Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Max Tatton-Brown is Founding Director of Augur, and writes about what's next in the world of technology, marketing and startups. He is a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus

17 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

I agree that monthly newsletters can be a horrible way to talk to customers. Most of us have seen despairing authors pleading on deadline day for someone (anyone!) to pass along some news to fill the damn thing. A responsive cadence is definitely better than that.

But when you introduce a new batch of product features, the old features don't just go away. E.g. a marketing technology company doesn't stop providing count-down-timers and product recommendations, when it also integrates news and twitter feeds.

So you need that /blog/ to create structure and allow inbound links to previous episodes in your story. "Create a page on your site" doesn't quite cut it.

over 2 years ago

Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Maximilian Tatton-Brown, Founding Director, Augur at Augur

Hi Pete,

Thanks for your message. I'm not saying don't have a 'blog' or 'news page' or whatever you call it. Quite the opposite.

I'm trying to snap people out of that zombie mode where they create /blog/ and start treating it like a weblog from a decade ago. I'm saying you should ask the question "what would the ultimate news page on my site look like."

Or in the case you describe, what would I want that page and what I store there to look like to be the perfect destination for inbound links.

Hope that clarifies,

Cheers,

Max

over 2 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

I agree with you Max. But I wrote the following blog posts over 5 years ago - but it feels as though not much has changed:

http://blog.escherman.com/2009/04/06/what-can-pr-learn-from-e-mail-marketing-best-practice/

http://blog.escherman.com/2009/04/08/pr-via-e-mail-the-worst-that-can-happen/

And the following dates from 2009 - and although ostensibly about B2B marketing, substitute the word "prospect" with "journalist" and it would still make sense. Sadly.

http://blog.escherman.com/2009/07/02/if-b2b-marketing-emails-could-talk-very-funny-video/

over 2 years ago

Maximilian Tatton-Brown

Maximilian Tatton-Brown, Founding Director, Augur at Augur

All good reads and this is often the case -- but I think we're in a different mental space now as an industry to 2009.

Things like the lean startup, the distance most agencies and PR departments have come with their technical knowledge. Even how far the email marketing tech or email clients and things like mobile have come.

I think in 2009, any of us weird PR people who obsess with looking around us might have spotted the trends -- I think in 2014, it's harder to remain in hiding from this and easier than ever to embrace it.

What do you think? And more importantly, what have you been writing about that we'll all be rehashing in 2019? ;)

over 2 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

Agreed. Things are better than they were in 2009. Although clearly there is still room for improvement. As for what I'm writing about now that will still resonate in 2019? If I knew that, I wouldn't be here ;)

over 2 years ago

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